Monday, April 02, 2007

Supreme Courts Rules EPA Has Right to Regulate Air Quality

In a story in the New York Times entitled Court Rebukes Administration in Global Warming Case, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, found that states have standing to challenge the EPA's failure to protect the environment.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court ordered the federal government on Monday to take a fresh look at regulating carbon dioxide emissions from cars, a rebuke to Bush administration policy on global warming.

In a 5-4 decision, the court said the Clean Air Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from cars.

Greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the landmark environmental law, Justice John Paul Stevens said in his majority opinion.


The court had three questions before it.

--Do states have the right to sue the EPA to challenge its decision?

--Does the Clean Air Act give EPA the authority to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases?

--Does EPA have the discretion not to regulate those emissions?

The court said yes to the first two questions. On the third, it ordered EPA to re-evaluate its contention it has the discretion not to regulate tailpipe emissions. The court said the agency has so far provided a "laundry list" of reasons that include foreign policy considerations.

The majority said the agency must tie its rationale more closely to the Clean Air Act.

"EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change," Stevens said. He was joined by his liberal colleagues, Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter, and the court's swing voter, Justice Anthony Kennedy.

When the Supreme Court's majority says that your policy has no "rational explanation," that's a pretty strongly worded rebuke. Let me explain:

There are three basic levels of constitutional scrutiny. The highest scrutiny is reserved for "fundamental rights" cases such as those involving freedom of speech and press, religious freedom, etc. This level is called the "Strict Scrutiny Test" or SST for short.

The second level of scrutiny, called "Intermediate Scrutiny," is reserved for rights that are deemed "important" as opposed to "fundamental." This often involves sex discrimination cases.

The lowest level of test, and the one which the government is supposed to be able to pass the easiest is the "Rational Basis Test" or RBT for short. The Rational Basis Test is usually applied to taxing and spending priorities of the government. The government merely has to show that its taxing, spending or regulating policy merely has some rational relation to a legitimate government interest.

What the Supreme Court appears to be saying is that the Bush Administration wasn't even able to show that its failure to regulate the quality of air had some rational basis to it.

That's bad.

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